‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’
Wise advice from William Morris the 19th century writer and designer. It’s an adage I try (and frequently fail) to follow but as I was wondering how to fill this page it struck me the quote could easily read ‘do nothing with your time that you do not know to be useful.’
It’s the weekend so hopefully we’ve all found time for a bit of relaxation as well as cleaning the house and catching up on laundry. For that reason I’m going to talk to you about hobbies, specifically the ones I’ve managed to make use of when writing.
I’m a real flitter with an attention span that lasts around a year before I get bored and want to try something new. Combined with circumstances including childcare issues, classes being cancelled or demands of the day job taking over, in my time I’ve tried every hobby from Arabic dance to Zumba (fortunately, or that sentence wouldn’t have worked half as well).
Like my heroine Joanna in The Blacksmith’s Wife I fancied discovering my hidden artistic talents and for years took classes in various different media. I’ve got sketchbooks full of watercolours, charcoal and oil paint daubs that are better for not seeing the light of day.
While Hal discovers his creative mojo through his wife’s drawings, if it had been left to my efforts, he would still have been knocking out horseshoes and door hinges so he’s definitely lucky he ended up with her not me.
My heroes - and occasional heroine - have often had to prove their handiness with a sword. Though fencing isn’t strictly medieval a sword is a sword (I can hear my instructor’s teeth grinding from here) and I reached Bronze level in Foil.
As a result I’m able to confidently tell which end of a sword to hold (stick them with the pointy end), a few fancy names and foot moves, and know first-hand how much it stings to get swiped across the boobs with a snapping blade.
This was one of my favourite hobbies and I was really sad when the class ended, not least because I enjoyed quoting The Princess Bride and confusing people by being left-handed, a trait I shared with Will, my hero from A Wager for the Widow.
My most recent obsession which has come in useful is horse riding, which I started along with my daughter.
Sources are mixed whether women in the middle ages rode side-saddle. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath wore two spurs so probably rode astride but drawings also show women riding sideways and being led. I suspect it was an individual choice in some cases and I chose to let my heroines sit astride. Almost all of them can ride.
Aline, Eleanor and Constance (from my upcoming December release) are confident riders. Joanna starts to learn with Hal as her teacher but Lucy, my WIP’s heroine doesn’t, prompting the hero to scathingly pick up on her lack of experience. “Horse. The large, black animal I arrived here on. Four legs. About as tall as you.”
Disclaimer: the scene in A Wager for the Widow where Eleanor gets her skirt caught in the saddle and has to be untangled by Will is not at all based on any real experience.
One pastime I love to do with my whole family is visiting museums and historic sights where I’m always ready with a camera in case inspiration strikes or I see something useful. They’re used to me leaning over barriers and battlements trying to get the best angle.
A lot of National Trust sites have dressing up boxes so I always look out for the chance to stick on a costume if I can. One of my happiest days ever was turning up at Lyme Park where the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice was filmed and discovering they now have a room which loans out costumes you can wear to go wandering round the grounds.
Hobbies I haven’t managed to get into a story yet include Arabic dancing, skiing, cycling and playing the violin, mainly because of the time period and settings I write in, although I’ll never rule anything out.
I couldn’t finish an article this without mentioning the one hobby that I’ve stuck to and which has become more than a way of filling a few hours. Of course I’m talking about writing. What started off as a way to stave off boredom and stop my brain turning to mush on long evenings alone (documented elsewhere if anyone wants to know the curious call story) has now become a second career. Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m a published author and while I know I’ll never become a champion skier or set the world of bellydance alight, my interest writing shows no sign of tailing off anytime soon.
Whatever hobby you love and however you’ve spent your weekend, I hope it’s been a great one.
Love Elisabeth (currently camping in France and indulging my passions for Breton cider and teaching medieval architecture through the medium of sandcastles).
What obsessions fill your free time? Elisabeth is dying to know, so join in the discussion in the comments!
A passion forged from fire
Rejected by her favoured knight, Joanna Sollers knows she will never love again. Especially when the man she’s now forced to marry is none other than her beloved’s half-brother!
For blacksmith Hal Danby, marrying Joanna makes his life-long dream of entering the Smiths’ Guild possible, even if the secrets in his past mean he’ll forever keep his distance. But everything changes with one stolen night, and in the arms of his new bride, Hal wonders if this loveless arrangement could transform into something real…